Coffee Bean

A coffee bean is the seed of the coffee plant (the pit inside the red or purple fruit). Even though they are seeds, they are referred to as 'beans' because of their resemblance. The fruits, coffee cherries or coffee berries, most commonly contain two stones with their flat sides together. In a crop of coffee, a small percentage of cherries contain a single bean, instead of the usual two. This is called a peaberry. Coffee beans consist mostly of endosperm that contains 0.8 - 2.5 % caffeine, which is one of the main reasons the plants are cultivated. As coffee is one of the world's most widely consumed beverages, coffee beans are a major cash crop, and an important export product for some countries. It is considered a regularly consumed beverage in the United States - as popular as soft drinks and even water - and because of the volume consumed, it is there that coffee is highest in demand.

coffee plant
Cultivation of the coffee bean originated in Yemen, in approximately 850 C.E. Farming of the coffee plant then spread to the rest of Arabia, where it was first mentioned in writing around 900 C.E. The Yemenites guarded it carefully, but some plants were eventually smuggled out to the Dutch, who kept a few plants for gardens in the Netherlands.

The Americas were first introduced to the plants around 1723. South America is now responsible for over 50% of the world's total coffee production.

The coffee tree averages from 5-10 m (15–30 ft.) in height. As the tree gets older, it branches less and less and bears more leaves and fruit. The tree typically begins to bear fruit 3–5 years after being planted, and continues to produce for 10-20 more years, depending on the type of plant and the area.

Coffee plants are grown in rows several feet apart. Some farmers plant fruit trees around them or plant the coffee on the sides of hills, because they need specific conditions to flourish. They require a warm climate (but not too hot, either) and at least 1.8 m (70 inches) of rainfall year. Heavy rain is needed in the beginning of the season when the fruit is developing, and less later in the season as it ripens. The harvesting period can be anywhere from three weeks to three months, and in some places the harvesting period continues all year round.

When the fruit is ripe, it is almost always handpicked, using either selective picking, where only the ripe fruit is removed or strip-picking, where the entire tree is shaken when most of the fruit has matured. Because a tree can have both ripe and unripe berries at the same time, one area of crop has to be picked several times, making harvesting the most labor intensive process of coffee bean production.

There are two methods of processing the coffee berries. The first method is wet processing, which is usually carried out in Central America and areas of Africa. The flesh of the berries is separated from the seeds and then the beans are fermented - soaked in water for about two days. This dissolves any pulp or sticky residue that may still be attached to the beans. The beans are then washed and dried in the sun, or, in the case of commercial manufacturers, in drying machines.

The dry processing method is cheaper and simpler, used for lower quality beans in Brazil and much of Africa. Twigs and other foreign objects are separated from the berries and the fruit is then spread out in the sun on cement or brick for 2–3 weeks, turned regularly for even drying. The dried pulp is removed from the beans afterward.

After processing has taken place, the husks are removed and the beans are roasted, which gives them their varying brown color, and they can then be sorted for bagging. [source : Coffee Bean]